Tonya Foster and Tyehimba Jess
The gathering at the salon (Ross Gay at left, Sharan Strange at center)
Krista Franklin and Bakar Wilson
A final highlight of AWP I'll mention was one of the last panels of the weekend, the "Avant-Garde Latino/a Poetry" panel that took place on Saturday, at 4:30, in one of the host hotels. I joined Evie, Dorothy, Tisa B. (who'd persuaded me to go see the Kara Walker show at the Whitney, for which I thank her a million times), and Shelagh, and was very glad I checked it out. (Rodrigo Toscano, Cornelius Eady, Erica Doyle, and Greg Pardlo, among others, were in the audience.) Organized by poet Gabriel Gómez (at far right), the panelists included, from left, Maria Meléndez, Valerie Martínez, Roberto Tejada, Monica De La Torre, and Francisco Aragón.
On his Letras Latinas blog, Francisco, writing about Gabriel Gómez, quotes the organizing statement:
"The objective of this panel, made up of Latino/a poets, critics, and publishers, is to interrogate the very terms "avant-garde" and "latino/a experience" as intersecting locations of poetic practice so as to bring forth work that bears witness to our varying aesthetics as artists and thinkers."
Each of the poets read their work, which was enjoyable enough, but what really got me thinking were some of their responses to the concept of "avant-gardism" in relation to the concept of "Latino" in its American sense, and in particular, the exchange with the audience was especially informative. Roberto's critique of the breakdown of "nation" as a category and the reformulation of new identities in relation to global flows of capital and his historicization of experimentalism in Latino literary production were really enlightening, as was Martínez's reading and discussion of her poetic work on the hundreds of women murdered in Juárez (one of the central subjects of Roberto Bolaño's last novel, 2666.) One of the respondents, poet Urayoán Noel, really brought the noise with his discussion of his dissertation project (at NYU), which makes some crucial connections between the Puerto Rican literary avant-gardes connected with the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (still in existence), and figures from the West Coast Chicano literary scene. I got to meet Tejada (after having admired his work for years), and then to chat with Noel after the event, learning not only that he was close friends with Ángel Lozada, a writer I'd wanted to meet but missed during the Santo Domingo Book Fair two years ago (and whom Anthony wrote about on his Monaga blog), but also Rey Andújar, the brilliant young Dominican writer whose new book Candela, has recently hit bookstores.